by Cameron Smith
Three well-known Texas anglers — Rick Clunn, Richard McCarty and Jay Yelas — finished first, second and fifth in the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.) Texas Invitational on Lake Livingston, Nov. 3-5. It was Clunn’s 12th career B.A.S.S. victory, earning him $14,000 in cash plus a fully rigged Ranger boat.
One interesting note, it was also Clunn’s first win of a major tournament in his home state.
While dominance by Clunn and Co., is not too surprising, there is much to learn from the fact each of the three pros used totally different patterns to catch their fish. Clunn fished an old, supposedly “obsolete” crankbait; McCarty, fishing the same creek as Clunn, worked a homemade jig; and Yelas fished both a spinnerbait and jig.
For the tournament, Clunn brought in 15 bass weighing 37 pounds, 15 ounces (still another Texan, David Wharton, was the only other angler to weigh in three successive five-bass limits; he finished 8th). McCarty, a popular guide on Lake Fork, brought in a total of 14 bass weighing 33-15; and Yelas caught 12 keepers pushing the scales to 29-1.
Due to the heavy flooding that hit the region just two weeks prior to the tournament, many of the more than 300 anglers headed to Livingston with deep concerns of mud and floating debris, but upon arriving, they were surprised to find the backs of many tributary creeks clear and completely fishable. While the main lake was muddy, there was relatively little debris except in the upper Trinity River part of the lake.
Clunn, from nearby Montgomery, had fished Livingston often since its impoundment in 1969 and knew exactly where he wanted to spend his tournament. That spot was Penwaugh Creek, which opens with a double row of boathouses but then turns and offers a quiet, stump-lined creek channel as it heads into the forest. Over the years, Penwaugh has long been considered one of Livingston’s better creeks.
McCarty, on the other hand, had been to Livingston only once six years earlier, and he chose Penwaugh simply by studying a map and visiting the place during tournament practice. He’d had five jig bites during that visit, which was all it took to convince him to fish there during the tournament.
McCarty found his fish in the back of the creek where he could actually see the stumps in two to four feet of water along the edge of the channel where the depth dropped to six and eight feet. Pitching his 3/8 ounce homemade black/green/chartreuse jig with a black/chartreuse Berkley Power Frog to each stump, he worked back and forth along the channel and stumpy bank.
Twenty minutes into the first day of competition, as he was working his way out, McCarty saw Clunn just ahead of him.
The four-time world champion did not infringe upon McCarty’s water, however, preferring instead to concentrate on a 50 to 75 yard stretch of the creek between two bends. There were plenty of stumps there, as well, and Clunn worked them back and forth with a chartreuse/black Norman Big N crankbait.
Oddly enough, that crankbait wasn’t Clunn’s first lure choice. He’d actually started the day with a smaller Norman Little N, his first choice when fishing heavily pressured water (six to eight anglers fished Penwaugh at various times during the tournament), but when his first day’s partner — using a larger crankbait — boated three quick fish before he caught his first one, Clunn didn’t hesitate to change.
The Big N not only has rattles, it also has an extremely wide wobble of perhaps as much as six inches from side to side depending on retrieve speed, and when slowed down, it moves a lot of water. That alone should be enough to tempt a bass, but Clunn added another ingredient. He felt the bass likely had not seen such a lure for months or even years, so they wouldn’t be turned off by it. He even hand-painted the back black to give it extra contrast in the dingy water.
He worked the same depth as McCarty, concentrating on stumps and trees right along the edge of the eight foot channel. There was no special retrieve except to reel the Big N down and then hit the cover. On the last day of the tournament — the last afternoon, actually — Clunn caught the heaviest stringer of the entire contest, five bass weighing 15 pounds, 15 ounces.
It wasn’t until the final afternoon that Clunn ever took the lead. McCarty’s first day catch of 14-7 put him in second place behind Oklahoma angler Allen Head, and his second day stringer of 11-7 moved him into the lead going into the final round. By contrast, Clunn began with 12-0 that left him in10th the first day, followed by 10-0 that moved him into fifth.
Staying out of the limelight and away from Penwaugh, Jay Yelas spent his entire tournament in Kickapoo and Sandy Creeks. Historically, Kickapoo has also been a rich fishing area on Livingston and while over-flying the lake in practice Yelas had spotted clear water there.
Choosing a 1/2 ounce white Stanley VibraShaft spinnerbait with white Colorado blades, he fished stumps, logs and brush using a slow retrieve through water less than two feet deep. When that pattern slowed, he changed to a 5/16 ounce black/chartreuse Stanley jig and flipped boat docks and shoreline bullrushes.
Yelas also fished in Sandy Creek, but because it was being fished by other competitors, he soon abandoned it for the larger area in Kickapoo. His three-day stringers included five bass weighing 10-14 the first day, which put him in19th place; two bass weighing 7-5, which still moved him up to 14th the second day; and five bass weighing 10-14, which jumped him into fifth.
Afterward, Clunn emphasized that presentation and execution were the keys to his success.
“I tried not to let my casts become too mechanical,” he said, “because under these conditions where the bass were being heavily pressured by so many fishermen, the only way to catch them was to become intimate with that little section of the creek.
“It really seemed to me that bass acted differently around certain stumps. Some did one thing and others did another. That forced me to make each cast exactly right or the fish just wouldn’t hit, so I tried to learn everything I could about the water. Fortunately, all the other anglers who came into the creek spent their time casting to the bank, but that’s not where the fish were.”
McCarty, fishing in just his second professional tournament, fell short in his bid for victory when he boated just four fish the final day. A heavy rain the night before the last round muddied his water and he had trouble seeing his targets.
“I finally changed from my jig to a homemade 1/2 ounce white spinnerbait with a size seven willowleaf blade so I could cover more water with each cast,” he explained. “I caught six or seven short fish but I just couldn’t catch the final fish I needed. I’m not nearly as proficient with a crankbait as Rick, so I stayed with the jig until the last day.”
Certainly the biggest change the contestants found this year at Lake Livingston was that 21 miles of Trinity River channel between the U.S. Hwy. 90 bridge and the Texas Hwy. 19 bridge had been marked and signed.
This was a project spearheaded by Texas Black Bass Unlimited (TBBU), which raised $45,925 to fund the project, secured the necessary permits, then let the contract. The paperwork of securing permits, which involved the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Trinity River Authority, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, and the U.S. Coast Guard, took nearly 18 months. Driving the pilings and attaching the channel signs took less than two.
According to TBBU founder and president Leonard Ranne of Dallas, TBBU is the only private organization in the United States to ever handle the entire job of marking a river system.
Many in the area hope the channel marking will help bring anglers back to the 90,000-acre impoundment. In the early and mid 1970’s, Livingston produced some of the finest fishing in the state but trying to reach White Rock Creek and some of the other upper end tributaries from the lower end meant an extremely hazardous run.
“Our next project on Livingston is to improve the habitat,” added Ranne. “Texas Parks and Wildlife plans to stock Florida bass in the lake, so if we can get habitat for the fish, I think you’ll see Livingston’s fortunes improve dramatically.”
Clunn, McCarty and Yelas, naturally, aren’t too disappointed at Livingston’s fishery right now. “The lake has excellent potential,” noted Clunn. “The fish came from a variety of places and on several different lures and techniques, and that’s always a good sign on any impoundment.